Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky missed his nap, but he sure didn’t miss his chance

Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky gets into rotation

Charlotte Hornets center Frank Kaminsky on his playing time boost.
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Charlotte Hornets center Frank Kaminsky on his playing time boost.

For a lot of pro athletes, an injection of self-awareness would be a welcome change.

Quite the opposite for Charlotte Hornets big man Frank Kaminsky.

“In the beginning it was kind of my imagination running wild,” Kaminsky said of hardly ever playing in the first 16 games. “You’ve been around me enough; you know I’m a thinker.”

He is definitely a thinker, often an over-thinker. Sometimes Kaminsky being cerebral just makes him self-conscious. He knows that about himself. This season new coach James Borrego shifted him from power forward to center. There is a crowd at that position and for much of the past six weeks Kaminsky has been fourth of four centers.

Then Willy Hernangomez sprained his right ankle Monday, so Borrego had a decision to make: Who to elevate to back up Cody Zeller? The options were Bismack Biyombo, Kaminsky or moving Marvin Williams over from power forward. At morning shootaround, Borrego informed Kaminsky he would get meaningful minutes.

How geeked up was Kaminsky? He tried to take his traditional pre-game nap early afternoon, but could never fall asleep. That didn’t hinder him. He played 22 minutes, scored 11 points, grabbed three rebounds and added two assists. And the Hornets won easily over the Indiana Pacers, 127-109.

“Fantastic!” Borrego said, referring to both Kaminsky’s readiness Wednesday and his general attitude in the time he was well outside the rotation.

Keeping a fantastic outlook would be hard for anyone in this situation. Kaminsky was in the Hornets’ rotation pretty much continuously his prior three Hornets seasons, playing for then-coach Steve Clifford. At the end of this season Kaminsky, the ninth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, will be a free agent for the first time.

The Hornets will have to decide this summer whether to make a qualifying offer of about $5 million for next season to restrict Kaminsky’s free agency. Based on how little he played before Wednesday (a total of 26 minutes), that qualifying offer seemed unlikely.

That’s pressure. That’s disappointment. That’s stress.

“What the expectation for myself was going into the year and what has happened so far isn’t even close” to matching, Kaminsky said.

Do what you can

Kaminsky is 7 feet tall and has perimeter shooting skills, so he certainly has natural traits for basketball. However, a lot of what got him from suburban Chicago to a scholarship at Wisconsin, and then to the NBA was work ethic.

He figured if he didn’t control his fate in games right now, he could at least control his work habits and approach. So Kaminsky would come back to the Spectrum Center practice gym at night to put up extra shots and work on conditioning.

He wasn’t alone. He says one of the encouraging things about this Hornets season is how many players, even those with steady playing time, come back for extra work on their own outside scheduled practice. So many players show up at night that Kaminsky said you sometimes have to wait for a basket to become available.

“I understand you’ve got to stay ready because there will be opportunities to go out and play,” Kaminsky said, “whether it’s by injuries or the game not going well and the coach looking for something different.”

Stay engaged

What Kaminsky said about Borrego looking for something different is already time-tested. One of the subplots of this coaching change is how fluid Borrego’s rotation has been so far. Each of the 14 players on guaranteed contract has already played at least one game of significant minutes and role. That usually only happens in reaction to a slew of injuries, which the Hornets haven’t had.

Part of that is circumstance; beyond superstar Kemba Walker, there just isn’t all that much difference in talent between Hornets starters and reserves. So a Biyombo or Dwayne Bacon might go five games without playing, then be popped into a game because of a potential matchup advantage.

The other part of that is Borrego’s background with the San Antonio Spurs. He said earlier this week that coach Greg Popovich and his Spurs assistants always make sure to assure bench players they are trusted when needed.

Borrego says that keeps players engaged and ready. Wednesday, it took Kaminsky out of his own head and into the box score.